WONDER WOMAN by MIKE DEODATO
Really, it should be Wonder Woman by William Messner-Loebs and Mike Deodato. This is the last year of Messner-Loebs WW run before John Byrne took over. It just so happens that Mike Deodato (Junior) was the artist for the last year worth of stories. It was a big storyline featuring an artist who would become a fixture of the American scene down the road, but at the time Deodato was mostly new to American audiences. With Wonder Woman coming into her 75th year and having just making her film debut plus popping up in a solo film and Justice League next year, DC is upping the WW visibility. We already got one of two OGNs this year, Diana is headlining two series in her main title and Legend of Wonder Woman. She’s co-starring in Justice League and the upcoming Trinity. Plus DC is releasing a ton of collections so why not release this? Especially as these stories were the FIRST Wonder Woman stories to be collected by DC.
Now, I wasn’t always the biggest WW fan. For a long period of time I had seen little with her but volume 2, issue #100 by these creators (along with cover artist Brian Bolland, letterer John Constanza, and colorist Patrica Mulvihill) was the first full length issue I picked up and read. All because of this Brian Bolland cover.
The costume, the artwork, my general confusion with what the fuck was going on, I picked it up and read it. It was alright. Years later, hardcore WW fan, I tracked down these and bought the two collections the Contest and the Challenge of Artemis. I thought they were pretty good but not enough to keep on the shelf. So why buy this new trade with all the stories? Well, one of my trades was used and this one included stories by the creators that had not been reprinted previously. So I bought, read it, and thought about it. So what are my feelings now versus then? Would I recommend it to new readers? What is this run about? Lets get started.
The story picks up with Diana on Themyscira, after it had appeared missing for some time. We get the recap letting us know Circe manipulated lost Amazons to attack, then sent monsters, hid the island. So Paradise is in array and things are rocky with the new Amazons living among them but somewhat removed. Things get into gear when Hippolyta criticizes Diana for not doing more in Patriarchs World. Diana, dealing with her mothers bad attitude in talks with friend Mala, meet Artemis and some of the new Amazons. Artemis the Amazon and not the Green Arrow sidekick though she’s damn good with a bow and arrow. As she confronts Artemis she gets the news that a new Contest will be held to choose a new champion.
The first half of the trade deals with the contest, Diana and Artemis interactions, and Diana’s visions of a past different than what her mother taught her. One where it was her Aunt Antiope who freed the Amazons and not her mother. Outside Themyscira, back in Boston, we get glimpses of a growing gang war between the widow of a gang boss and the former captain of said gang boss. Luckily its not a lot of information to digest and just sets into motion Diana’s major storyline in the second half. Diana, no longer WW, is in a new costume and trying to make money to help her friends. That leads her to being hired by gang boss Longo whose superhuman muscle has seemingly deserted him, a villain known as the White Magician. Longo is in fear from Mrs. Sazia who hired Cheshire, Poison Ivy and Cheetah. So Diana has all this to contend with while the new Wonder Woman, Artemis, is out there saving the day. Beating up sexists, sweatshop runners, saving the rain forest. Telling people she’s here to fix their world.
Everything ramps up with twists and turns and even a visit from the Joker! Up until the ending that inspired the Bolland cover I posted.
First, lets talk about the art since this is being billed as “by Mike Deodato.” If you hate Mike Deodato Jr, or 90s artists like Marc Silvestri, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld and so on DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK! Don’t. Just don’t. Now, if you like or can stand that kind of art, you might like what Deodato does here. Its very dated, of that era, and his work now is far better. There are issues like the sexualization of the Amazons but I think that pales to some of the ridiculous buff men. Like a Liefeld drawing on monster steroids. I believe I read that Messner-Loebs was satirizing the popular macho-ism of Image comics at the time so maybe its a story decision but those guys were god awful to look at. The positives though, a lot of that era of art had a kinetic movement to it. They stand out. Its loud and brash with fun layouts, camera angles that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. The action in the series, sometimes it looks good and sometimes it looks bad but its never dull.
I actually think Deodato does an okay Diana. I have more of a problem with the fact Hippolyta and Antiope look like Twins. Well, to be fair Diana looks like them both. They all look pretty good but hard to tell apart outside the costuming and because Hippolyta and Antiope wear almost the same thing in several scenes I scratch my head. The other ladies look fine, mostly. Most the women have a similar body type but its the era and I’m not interested in harping on it. If this was something of today I’d criticize more deeply. That said, I thought the facial expressions were a little more expressive then some of the similar looking comics of the time. I liked how the Joker looked and the stuff between him and Diana was gold. In fact, I think if they ever had to collect just a single issue from this run for a Best Wonder Woman stories (the one they did was crap) I would do one the Joker issues. More on that later.
Now, the black biker costume can’t really be blamed on Mike Deodato. It was designed by the amazing Brian Bolland who hated it himself. Looking at it a moment ago, I never noticed that once Diana switched outfits they cut her hair a little shorter and straightened her hair. WW with straight hair seems to be the standard even though for decades she had curly hair. Overall, your enjoyment of this book really rests on if you can get pass the art. While I generally think its fine, with moments of cool but for a lot of people it will probably be a turn off. The Brian Bolland covers are gold! Even in the crappy black outfit these are some fine covers. He even redid a rejected cover from that run for a recent WW variant during Joker month. If you can track it down check out the DC Comics Art of Brian Bolland for some of his fave WW covers and covers from books like Animal man, Invisibles and more.
Now the storylines are interesting. Messner-Loebs has gotten some flak over certain plot points through the run like having her work at a Taco joint but he gets Diana. At least more than a lot of writers do. He proved this even more so years back during DC’s odd Retroactive specials where creators did one shots of certain characters in the style of the issues in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. Him and Lee Moder producing the best and brightest. Here it feels like Messner-Loebs was basically trying to fight against what the early Image creators were doing. Like I said before, trying to satirize the tone. I think he failed but did good in spite of failing. The idea of a new Contest and Diana losing to the more aggressive and egotistical Artemis is pretty genius. Especially his handling of their budding friendship. They are rivals with Artemis wanting to be accepted by the Themysciran Amazons and even looking out for Diana and others. Diana in turn believes she should be accepted and respects her.
Most the second half comes off a little less interesting at first. The gang war for Boston is an excuse for Diana to deal with super powered baddies. It gets better with the Joker just showing up and wanting to have some fun. here Messner-Loebs does a cool bit where Diana is paralyzed by Joker but uses her roots in magic to contact Pan for help dealing with Joker, an agent of Chaos. Its a great part! Especially Diana cracking bad jokes.
Messner-Loebs pulls his twist in regards to Artemis success as Wonder Woman which leads to the big battle between herself and the White Magician. One that Diana joins when she locates the White Magician. I don’t have much on the villain as part of his development was earlier in Messner-Loebs run but the little I got makes me think he should get used in the future. He presents a strong threat to Diana. Diana has a lot of villains that could be great but don’t get handled well. they have potential, some of them have the means to be incredibly scary, but no. Diana and Artemis battle White Magician and his mutated minions (one of which is Cheetah) and things get bad. Don’t worry, Diana comes out alright. So does Artemis, who was resurrected rather quickly by Messner-Loebs alongside artist Ed Benes. She would go on to make various appearances and is set to co-star in the relaunched Red Hood & the Outlaws.
My biggest issue is probably the stuff about Hippolyta as its just another monkey wrench in Dianas origin, which her origin gets fucked around quite a bit. Even though it doesn’t actually change much, it does cast Hippolyta in a abd light and we really need to quit the Diana vs Hippolyta thing.
The other three stories include the first collaboration between writer and artist in issue 85. It gives a little more background to certain things that happen to the run as it features White Magician, Longo, Sazia, and others. Still, glad it was not put ahead in the trade because its not a good jumping on point so holding it until the end was smart. I actually read it first this time as I had already read the series before. After that is a two-part story from Legends of the DC Universe that reunites the two. A flashback story to when WW was still new, she discovers women can be just as violent and angry as men. A girl gang using exo-suits is causing troubles and a female officer believes in hitting back just as hard. It has Ares watching from the shadows giving a little commentary at the end. Also, while I like the skirt (love when WW is in a skirt) the belt/girdle/thing is pretty lousy looking. Its okay.
Going back and revisiting this book, I maintain it is one of my favorite Wonder Woman stories. Despite the flaws of the art, the failure of satire of the Image comics style, and a number of problems its an action packed thrill. The Contest, itself, is a very cool idea. Having Diana lose her mantle to a more brash woman in Artemis. I love that, despite some problems and conflict between the two, there is a respect. The foundation for a friendship that is built on later. The fight with the Joker is a WW highlight. The little bits with Poison Ivy and Cheshire in the series are pretty good and I was quite impressed with Mrs. Sazia, which I could read more with her. They should bring her back too. While White Magician isn’t the most exciting bad guy he is a threat. A smart man, and physical opponent. The closing two pages of the run are still very well done as far as I’m concerned.
Would I recommend it to you? If you’re a hardcore WW fan or miss the days of Image comics, totally check it out. Hardcore WW fans will get to see the birth of Artemis, the first (?) major collision between Diana and the Joker, plus might be interested in looking into Messner-Loebs previous stuff with a more appropriate artists. Old school Image fans will marvel at the big energy and craziness of the action.
Outside of that, this is a book of its era. I would say maybe avoid it unless you’re really curious. Maybe wait for Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka, the first in a series of trades collecting writer Greg Ruckas work. the first one includes the great OGN Hiketea with JG Jones. Most of it is absolutely thrilling except for some art inconsistencies and a rather lackluster finale. I blame that on DC’s big reboot at the time. Rucka just returned to the character with artists Liam Sharpe and Nicola Scott and so far the reviews have been great. Also check out Renae De Liz’s Legend of Wonder Woman which has been phenomenal. There is also the blockbuster Wonder Woman: Earth One by superstar writer Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette. A bit controversial with some hating it, some loving it, and a few somewhere in between. Its got some incredible stuff in there.